Rhondda malvern

Madeleine Shaw as Lady Rhondda and the WNO Ladies Chorus. Pictures: Jane Hobson

Rhondda Rips It Up

Malvern Theatre


This Welsh National Opera production with an all-female cast and orchestra is set at the time of suffrage, highlighting the plight of disenfranchised women and their fight for equality at the ballot box.

Margaret Haig Thomas, 2nd Viscountess Of Rhondda was instrumental in heading the band of headstrong protesters in a cause that changed the course of history over a century ago.

The Women’s Social and Political Union, set up by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in 1903 was the leading militant organisation through which the women voiced their anger, and also their often violent actions, in an effort to win their rights.

If we thought ‘girl power’ was a modern day concept, think on! As the suffrage movement gained notoriety and pace, a comment from the then Prime Minister, Lord Herbert Asquith, (quote) “women are incapable of intellectual thoughts” which must have hit at very raw nerves.

Enraged at his remark and weary of the repression and subservient treatment of their gender, the suffragettes rose up and organised demonstrations, marches and rallies until they eventually got the vote on December 14th 1918; 8.5 million were eligible to vote and in the same year an act was passed to allow women to stand for Parliament.

Described by the composer, Elena Langer as, ‘a hybrid, with elements of cabaret, opera, operetta, vaudeville and music hall’, she sums up beautifully this naughty but nice view of life as a suffragette, albeit a subject of serious contention.

A perfect mixture of comedy and melodrama, blended with delicious helpings of risqué dialogue, delightfully staged with a minimum of props, perfect costumes, including authentic boots and undergarments. The fluidity of changes, deftly carried out by the cast members, was charming. A joy to watch. Beautiful banners and flags, in the evocative colours of purple for loyalty, white for unity and green for hope. The Suffragette standard.

The overture heralded the players into their positions, assembled as peers of the realm, their colourful robes of red and ermine making a striking picture. Along with Emcee, (the mellifluous Lesley Garrett), the rousing singing, and perfect harmonious chords flowed effortlessly throughout the two acts.

lords mal

Lesley Garrett as Emcee with the WNO (Lords and) Ladies Chorus

Madeleine Shaw as the feisty, determined Lady Rhondda, showed great versatility as her character grew in strength and resolve.

In particular, the duet with Helen Archdale, played by Anitra Blaxhall, as they quaffed champagne and danced atop a bed with the added amusement of a tambourine. It was hilarious.

There were so many memorable moments in this production including a scene on the ill fated Cunard liner, The Lusitania. Waves and all!

Around the panelled walls of the proscenium were tiny doors at varying heights that opened to reveal key characters. An ingenious idea that was somewhat reminiscent of Rowan and Martins Laugh In, an American sketch show, from late 1960s to early 1970s.

Also, what vision to have a postbox, a pharmacy, a bush and, a Rolls Royce in the guise of an actress! She even had The Spirit if Ecstasy on her head! So clever and what speedy quick changes by members of the cast, some of whom played seven different characters.

The script had some apt, saucy lines, which out of context may not sound very funny, but to rhyme applause with menopause is genius. And, “does a fondant fancy count as food?” is brilliant.

Toe tapping songs are aplenty, and who wouldn’t be amused by, My Little Girls Pussy from the songbook of the great Harry Roy.

All under the baton of musical director, Nicola Rose with librettist Emma Jenkins, designed by Lara Booth and directed by Caroline Clegg, there is superb singing and orchestration, credible emotional acting, full of characterisation in all areas.  A great show with an equally great cast.

Lively pace, crisp, precise diction, a production worthy of its five stars. To

Elizabeth M. Smith and Rosemary Manjunath.


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